I wanted to write a quick note in recognition of the fact that in the last two games, Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro is starting to realize that the season's closing down and he has to figure out who's going to be in his playoff rotations.
Last night, even in a game with no Jamal Crawford Vinny stuck with his apparent plan to experiment with the Clipper bigs: No minutes for Hollins or Turiaf last night (and only garbage-time minutes against Milwaukee). The Clips relied on Lamar Odom and Grant Hill to fill in for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. And DJ played the whole third quarter... and none of the fourth. (I'm not exactly sure what to read into that.)
Of course Matt Barnes absorbed most of Crawford's minutes clocking over 35. Caron Butler played over 26, more than his usual 20 or so. Willie Green picked up 14 to soak up the rest. The results were predictably grim, except that Barnes had an excellent first half... but the Clips don't really have an extra super-sub like Crawford. No one does.
The most distressing thing for me is that Del Negro seemed uninterested in extending Eric Bledsoe's time in either game... even though Chauncey Billups is obviously not ready to play more than 20 minutes. But this morning the news seems to be that Bledsoe is also on a limit. He's played only 15+ in each of the last two.
The Clippers are also extremely careful with Chris Paul's time on the floor (the only explanation for pulling him out in the fourth last night). They are apparently concerned enough to make a D-league acquisition. I expect that's a move primarily intended to back up the point guard spot. This is the first time all season the Clippers depth has been challenged.
All in all, I'm happy that Del Negro has realized it's time to experiment a bit with the lineup. Though last night he had his hand forced by the injury to Crawford, he seems ready to change his five-man hockey line approach to bench play.
It also might mean that the Clippers are ready to accept their third-place conference finish, and prepare for the playoffs. They have a relatively light schedule remaining in the last six weeks, should easily win most or all of their games against lesser competition without burning out their premier players. It seems Del Negro's decided it's time for the coaching staff to figure out who their crunch-time lineups are going to be. But does this mean the Clippers have given up on trying to climb the standings and grabbing the two seed?
Which is more important, better playoff position or figuring out whether DeAndre Jordan's a fourth quarter player? Or can Grant Hill fill in against the smaller lineups? Or will Chauncey Billups contribute enough to warrant more than fifteen minutes?
It seems to me the Clipper are locked in at several player positions for the playoffs but there are plenty of unknowns. Griffin and Paul will see 35-40 minute games, as will Jamal Crawford. Lamar Odom will be the first big off the bench. Eric Bledsoe, hopefully, will turn into the guy he was in last year's playoffs (which is why "rest" might be more imporant than "play" right now). Will Vinny turn to Hollins or Turiaf against a big lineup. Will he keep the less-than-productive Hill in the rotation? Should Matt Barnes get more minutes than Caron Butler? There's a lot that's up in the air.